- Fifth Council of Orleans and Gregory of Tours
- James M. Ludlow
The term "premodern" encompasses both ancient times and the Middle Ages, also known as the medieval period, which lasted from about A.D. 500 to 1500. Although there were many changes during the premodern period, the way people lived then was so different from the way people live now it is useful to group these periods together.
In particular, the nature of slavery changed little in this period. During the modern era, slavery had racist overtones: white slaveholders claimed that they were racially superior to black Africans. However, in premodern times, slavery generally lacked this racial aspect. Certainly people, for the most part, considered slaves as inferior human beings; but this viewpoint was also influenced by ideas about nationality, social class, and even religion—not race.
Social class played a strong role in Babylonia, a highly developed ancient civilization in what is now Iraq. The...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Excerpt from the Code of Hammurabi
Published in Hammurabi, King of Babylonia:
The Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, 1976
Translated by L. W. King
Hammurabi (1792 B.C.-?) established one of the world's first legal systems. As ruler of Babylonia (in what is now Iraq) during the 1700s B.C., Hammurabi conquered a large empire. To rule such a large and diverse area, he created a system of laws. Among the most notable features of this system are the protections it offered to the weak and vulnerable members of society, such as widows and orphans. On the other hand, it also established harsh punishments, and was the source of the idea "an eye for an eye," the belief that the punishment should be every bit as harsh as the crime itself.
The Code of Hammurabi consisted of 282 laws; thirty directly relate to the practice of slavery. These addressed various aspects of slavery, but there was one constant: the punishment depended on the status of the person harmed. In ancient Babylonia, there were three classes, or social groups: free men, who were the wealthiest and most powerful class; citizens or...
(The entire section is 2416 words.)
Excerpt from The Politics of Aristotle
Published in The Politics of Aristotle, 1900
Although ancient Greece introduced the concept of democracy (a government ruled by its citizens), Greek society was also highly dependent on slave labor. In fact, only a small group of people in ancient Greece—the citizens—actually enjoyed the benefits of democracy, such as the opportunity to vote. The citizens were made up of free Greek males. Women were forbidden to vote, as were foreigners. So, too, was the largest group in Greek society: slaves.
Ancient Greece was never a single nation, but a collection of several hundred self-governing city-states. These tiny districts functioned as separate countries, but tended to follow the lead of the most important city-states, particularly Athens and Sparta. Sparta was a military dictatorship, an extremely harsh, organized system ruled by a small group. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of its people were slaves. Yet even Athens, the birthplace of democracy and indeed of Western civilization, was hugely dependent on slave labor.
Even a highly intelligent, educated Athenian citizen could support the...
(The entire section is 2318 words.)
Excerpt from Lives of the Noble Romans
Published in Lives of the Noble Romans, 1959
Few societies in history have been as dependent on slavery as ancient Rome. In fact, Romans lived in terror of a slave uprising; in 73 B.C., their worst fears were realized when a slave named Spartacus led a slave revolt. Over the course of two years, approximately 120,000 slaves fought the Roman forces throughout Italy before finally being defeated in 71 B.C.
This conflict is known as the Gladiatorial War, because Spartacus and the others who began it were gladiators, or warriors who fought to their deaths in a ring while cheering spectators watched. Slaves like Spartacus were trained to be gladiators at a center run by Lentulus Batiates, in the southern Italian city of Capua.
Spartacus came from Thrace, which was located in the area that is present-day Bulgaria. Many of the other slaves at the school were either Thracians or Gauls. Gaul was the Roman term for the Celts, a tribal group that lived in areas to the north of Italy.
(The entire section is 2542 words.)
The Fifth Council of Orleans and Gregory of Tours
The Fifth Council of Orleans
Excerpt from Laws Concerning Slaves and Freedmen
Published in A Sourcebook for Medieval Economic History, 1936
Edited by Roy C. Cave and Herbert H. Coulson
Greogry of Tours
Excerpt from History of the Franks
Published in A Sourcebook for Medieval Economic History, 1936
Edited by Roy C. Cave and Herbert H. Coulson
In the Middle Ages, the period between about A.D. 500 and 1500, the issue of slavery in Europe became more confusing. During this period, only about ten percent of the people in Europe were slaves—but another forty percent were serfs, poor farmers who enjoyed just a bit more freedom than actual slaves.
The dominant political force in Europe during the Middle Ages was the Roman Catholic Church, whose leadership passed laws that applied to the population as a whole, just like the laws of a government. Much of this activity took place at church councils, or conferences. It was at these events that bishops (high-ranking priests with authority over the believers in a given region) considered a number of matters. One such council was held in the French city of Orleans in 549.
(The entire section is 2654 words.)
Ludlow, James M
"The Tribute of Children"
Published in The World's Story:
A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, 1914-18
Edited by Eva March Tappan
While serfdom (an institution in Europe during the Middle Ages bounding people as servants to lords) became prominent in Europe, traditional slavery remained a significant force in the Middle East. Because of its position between Europe, Africa, and Asia, the region was an important trading center. Local Arab merchants maintained a thriving business in captured Africans and other slaves.
Arab or Middle Eastern slave traders were not concerned with the same issues that eventually brought an end to slavery in America. Whereas many Americans recognized that the practice of slavery was opposed to the principles of freedom and equality spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, slavery did not necessarily go against the principles of the Muslim or Islamic faith, which dominated the Middle East. Like Christianity, Islam made little effort to directly oppose slavery, and many believers in the Islamic faith considered slavery to be justified—particularly if the slaves were members of another religion.
(The entire section is 2452 words.)
Early Modern Slavery (1500-1900)
- Alexander Fakonbridge
- James Barbot
- American Antislavery Society
- Abraham Lincoln and the United States Constitution
As the Renaissance (a period of renewed interest in learning) began to sweep Western Europe around 1450, the practice of slavery began to change. A pivotal event was the arrival of fourteen African slaves in Portugal in 1441. The slaves had been captured in the interior by other Africans, who then sold them to a Portuguese mariner on the coast of Africa. The mariner in turn brought them back to Europe, where he presented the slaves to Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460).
Although he never really traveled, Prince Henry was the guiding force in an age of Portuguese exploration. Under his direction, Portuguese sailors charted the coast of Africa and sea routes to India. Portuguese economic interest in Africa was motivated primarily by goods such as gold and ivory; slaves were, at least at first, an afterthought. After all, slavery was not practiced in Europe, since there was no shortage of cheap...
(The entire section is 1011 words.)
Excerpt from An Account of the Slave Trade
on the Coast of Africa
Published in An Account of the Slave Trade
on the Coast of Africa, 1788
Many scholars date the true beginnings of the Renaissance, a period of renewed interest in learning that heralded the beginnings of the modern age in Europe, from about 1450. Around that time, a number of important changes occurred, among them the launching of numerous voyages of discovery by Portuguese and Spanish ships.
After Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) accidentally discovered the Americas, or the New World, in 1492, Spaniards began colonizing parts of it—that is, they made certain regions into Spanish territories. Among these regions were the islands of the Caribbean, which came to be known as the West Indies because Columbus mistakenly believed he had reached India. The Portuguese, however, had started their explorations a half-century earlier, and their voyages took them to the Atlantic coast of Africa. It was there that European trade in African slaves began during the mid 1400s.
(The entire section is 2889 words.)
Excerpt from "A Supplement to the Description of
the Coasts of North and South Guinea"
Published in A Collection of Voyages and Travels..., 1732
Compiled by Awnsham Churchill
One of the most frequently used terms in the vocabulary of slavery is "Middle Passage." This is a reference to the triangular route employed by most slave ships, the middle part of which was the voyage from Africa to the New World. Ships would sail from Europe to West Africa, where they would pick up slaves; then from Africa to the Americas, where they would sell the slaves for goods such as corn and tobacco; and then from the New World back to Europe, where they sold the products.
If one forgets for a moment that slavers were trafficking in human lives, and instead views this arrangement in pure business terms, it makes sense: rather than send empty ships on a transatlantic voyage, European merchants were able to make money on both the journey out and the journey back. The fact is that although slavery was an extraordinarily cruel business, it was a business nonetheless, and the people who engaged in it considered it as just another way to make a living. This was the perspective of James Barbot, a crew member aboard the English slave ship Don Carlos.
(The entire section is 2526 words.)
American Antislavery Society
Excerpt from "Declaration of Sentiments"
Published in The Abolitionists: A Collection of Their Writing, 1963
Edited by Louis Ruchames
With the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, a new government based on what Americans believed were the natural rights of human beings was created. Those rights had a number of dimensions, but they all reduced to a single idea: freedom. And yet when Americans looked around them, they saw that many people were not free.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States became increasingly divided over the question of slavery. To wealthy Southern plantation owners, slavery was believed to be necessary for their economic survival. The invention of the cotton gin, a machine for separating cotton fibers from seeds, had made cotton highly profitable. Along with tobacco, rice, and other crops grown by slaves, it became a mainstay of the economy of the American South.
In the North, however, it was too cold to...
(The entire section is 2880 words.)
Excerpt from "A Slave's Story"
Published in Putnam's Monthly Magazine, June 1857
By 1857, America was on the brink of civil war. The most significant reason for the conflict was the issue of states' rights—that is, the question of how much power the federal government had over the states. Slavery was related to this issue, as many states wanted to determine for themselves whether they would allow slavery in their state.
Whereas questions regarding federal and state power were largely abstract, or removed from everyday reality, slavery was a highly personal issue. Opponents of slavery sought to make it still more personal through the use of the written word. For example, the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe strongly influenced public sentiment against slavery both in the northern United States and in England, whose dependence on cotton from the slaveholding states could otherwise have made it an ally of the South.
(The entire section is 3227 words.)
Lincoln, Abraham and United States Constitution
Reprinted in The American Revolution—an .HTML project, 1997
United States Constitution
Amendments 13 to 15
Reprinted in Discovering World History, 2000
By the 1860 presidential elections, tensions in America had reached a boiling point. The Democratic Party had divided into proslavery and antislavery factions while the Republican Party, united in its opposition to slavery, nominated Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) for president. Lincoln, who opposed both the spread of slavery and efforts by government to forcibly end it, won the November presidential elections.
Lincoln's victory sparked enormous hostility in the South, where slaveholders feared that the federal government would take their "property"; therefore, a group of Southern leaders met to form a breakaway government, the Confederate States of America. South Carolina was the first state to secede, or separate...
(The entire section is 3672 words.)
Late Modern Slavery (1900-Present)
- Aimé Bonifas
- Yun Turi
- American Federation of Labor
- François Ponchaud
- Huw Watkin, Vijay Prashad, and All Africa News Agency
Slavery in the twentieth century would take on a variety of new forms, and would in many instances prove more gruesome than anything that preceded it. As cruel as slavery had been in the American South during the nineteenth century, for instance, few slaveholders had tried to work their slaves to death, if for no other reason that they considered them valuable "property." In the twentieth century, however, slave-labor camps in Germany, the Soviet Union (a former country of eastern Europe and northern Asia that united Russia and various other soviet republics), China, and other nations became death camps.
Slavery in modern times, particularly slavery that was politically motivated, truly took shape in the latter part of World War I (1914-18). By that time, Germany was having difficulty maintaining its war effort against Britain, France, Russia, and their allies, and needed to produce more weapons...
(The entire section is 1063 words.)
Excerpt from Prisoner 20-801:
A French National in the Nazi Labor Camps
Published in Prisoner 20-801:
A French National in the Nazi Labor Camps, 1987
By the time Aimé Bonifas was imprisoned by the Germans, slavery had long since been revived in its twentieth-century forms. This had been aided by the spread of totalitarian systems, (totalitarian systems demand that people submit completely to the state, or the government) most notably Marxism (the political and economic ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on which Soviet Communism was based) and Nazism (the ideology and practice of the Nazis, especially the policy of racist nationalism, national expansion, and state control of the economy) in Germany.
Led by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the Nazis had taken over the German government in 1933. Once in power, they dealt harshly with enemies both real (i.e. communists and members of other political parties) and those they imagined to be their enemies. In fact, their most brutal treatment was toward groups such as Gypsies, homosexuals, and Jews, who could not possibly have posed a serious threat to the Nazi government.
(The entire section is 3016 words.)
Excerpt from True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women
Published In True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women, 1995
Edited by Keith Howard
Germany and Japan fought on the same side during World War II (1939-45), an alliance known as the Axis nations. They did little to coordinate their efforts, but their leaders shared a desire to rule the world and a brutal disregard of human rights. Japan, a nation lacking in natural resources, wanted to conquer eastern Asia and the Pacific islands, and it very nearly succeeded in doing so.
In 1931, ten years before Japanese planes launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which brought the United States into World War II against Japan and Germany, Japan annexed Manchuria in northern China. During the 1930s, the Japanese tightened their grip on China, and by 1941, they were prepared to extend their rule over much of the region. On December 7, the same day as the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan launched attacks in several other areas, including the Philippines. Japan did not attack Korea, however, simply because it had already controlled that country since 1910.
Conquered nations unwillingly supplied Japan with...
(The entire section is 2907 words.)
American Federation of Labor
"Free Labor vs. Slave Labor: Irrepressible Conflict"
Published in Slave Labor in Russia: The Case Presented by the
American Federation of Labor to the United Nations, 1949
At the beginning of World War II (1939-45), the Soviet Union (a former country of eastern Europe and northern Asia that united Russia and various other soviet republics) under Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) had been allied with Nazi Germany; however, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 had ended this alliance. As a result, the Soviet Union joined forces with Great Britain and the United States against Nazi Germany. Even before the war ended in 1945, this alliance was falling apart, largely because of different ways they treated human life: America and Britain were, for all their faults, countries with a high value for freedom and human life, whereas Stalin's regime was built on slave labor, repression, and death.
By 1947, when the American Federation of Labor (AFL) published a statement in its International Free Trade Union News denouncing...
(The entire section is 3430 words.)
Excerpt from Cambodia: Year Zero
Published in Cambodia: Year Zero, 1978
From the mid-1960s to 1973, the United States and its allies in South Vietnam fought a long war against Soviet-supported Communist forces concentrated in North Vietnam. (Communism is a system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian state.) This war eventually expanded throughout much of Southeast Asia, involving the neighboring nations of Laos and Cambodia. The opposition of American citizens to the war forced the government to withdraw its troops, and in January 1973 the United States signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Soviet and Chinese support for North Vietnam continued, and in April 1975, North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam. At the same time, Communist forces in Laos and Cambodia were also victorious. Vietnamese and Laotian Communists (who were heavily dependent on Vietnamese support) herded thousands of people into "re-education camps," which were in fact slave-labor camps. However, the Soviet model was positively humane compared to the system imposed in...
(The entire section is 2978 words.)
Watkin, Huw, Prashad, Vijay and All Africa News Agency
"Rise in Women Forced to Work as Sex Slaves"
Published in South China Morning Post, August 11, 1999
Excerpt from "Calloused Consciences:
The Limited Challenge to Child Labor"
Published in Dollars & Sense, September 1999
All Africa News Agency
"Humanitarian Group Buys Freedom for 4,300 Sudanese"
Published in Africa News Service, December 3, 1999
In 1989 the end of communism seemed to be coming to an end; in fact, within two years the Marxist-Leninist system had been abandoned in all but a handful of countries. The exposure of crimes under particularly severe regimes, such as the one in Romania, increased international awareness of the inhumanity that persisted under communist rule.
Despite the fact that much twentieth-century slavery had been associated with communism and other totalitarian ideologies, however, the end of communism did not bring an end to slavery. (Totalitarian systems demand that people submit completely to the state, or the government.) In fact, many human rights organizations suggested that at the end of the twentieth century, more people were enslaved around...
(The entire section is 4584 words.)